Reporting David Elfin
The Redskins’ defensive coaches must have Jordan Pugh on speed dial right now. A week after the backup safety was released in favor of the slightly younger and faster Trenton Robinson, Washington might be seriously desperate for safety help ASAP.
Not only is strong safety Reed Doughty dealing with a concussion that sidelined him during the fourth quarter of this past Sunday’s 45-41 survival of Chicago, but free safety Brandon Meriweather was suspended yesterday for the next two games after getting flagged for two more of his typically illegal hits against the Bears.
Those developments are especially problematic when the Redskins are about to face Denver’s Julius Thomas, who has 36 catches, 422 yards and eight touchdowns on passes from peerless quarterback Peyton Manning. The first two stats ranks fourth among NFL tight ends. The third is tied for the league lead among all players.
If Doughty is unable to play on Sunday in his first NFL game back in his native Colorado and Meriweather doesn’t appeal his suspension, Washington’s only safeties would be: rookie Baccari Rambo, who sank from starter during the first two games to inactive the past two because of missed assignments and tackles; Jose Gumbs, who has played in two NFL games; and the aforementioned Robinson, who has played in four. Their nine career combined games are two fewer than the total in which Doughty and Meriweather have played in this season.
After Meriweather delivered his kill shots on Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, he professed his relative innocence.
“The last two or three weeks I tried everything possible [to prevent further flags],” he said. “I lowered my target. I stopped using my head. I’m using my shoulder. No matter what I do, I feel like I’m going to be in the wrong. If I hit you with my shoulder and I slide over, they’re still going to say it’s head-to-head. If I hit ‘em too low, I think somebody just got flagged for hitting somebody too low.”
Meriweather’s history of cheap shots hastened the suspension and will hurt his cause if he tries to appeal.
“Am I being targeted?,” he said in answer to a question. “I would hope not. I don’t think so. They trying to be safe and the only way to be safe is to do what they doing, but at the same time, this is tackle football. I think a job of a safety is to instill fear.”
Trouble is, that as the NFL deals with the ongoing tragedy of so many former players dying younger with damaged brains from concussions, it’s no longer the era when such ferocious safeties as Jack Tatum, George Atkinson and Chuck Cecil were saluted, not vilified.
A Pro Bowl pick for New England in 2009 and 2010, Meriweather was cut the following September because of his undisciplined style. He moved on to Chicago where he was a backup for most of 2011 for the same reason. Meriweather’s knees allowed him to play in just one game for Washington in 2012, but in his second game this year, he was fined for $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet blow that sidelined Green Bay rookie running back Eddie Lacy. That upped Meriweather’s total for four illegal hits in 2010, 2011 and 2013 to $137,000.
If the suspension is upheld or not appealed, Meriweather will lose more than that because of his hits on Marshall and Jeffery. Two of Meriweather’s weekly checks equals $141,176.
“If y’all go watch my first five years compared to the way I played the last three, four games, everybody in the league would tell you I have changed the way I hit,” Meriweather claimed. “I’m not necessarily launching myself into people. I’m actually squaring them up. I’m trying to tackle the way that I’ve been coached to. I talked to [NFL officials] about my last fine and they told me, ‘Go lower.’ And I did that and I still got flagged for it. So I really don’t know. I really don’t.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan agreed that Meriweather has been trying to change his approach to tackling.
“We’re working on it,” said Shanahan, who would be smart to ask Meriweather not to appeal since Washington’s next two games are against non-conference foes with a visit from San Diego following the trip to Denver. “When you’re taking off, you ask, ‘Where is the guy? Is he standing up? Is he going down?’ It’s tough. You want them to be aggressive, but get lower.”
Marshall, who lives near Meriweather in Orlando during the offseason and has had his own discipline issues over the years, said that his buddy isn’t trying hard enough to change.
“Maybe he needs to get suspended or taken out of the game completely,” Marshall said after the game in Landover. “I understand big hits. That’s part of our game, but when you have a guy that does it week in and week out, that’s when it becomes a problem.”
Of course, Meriweather’s cheap shots are a problem for those he victimizes, but they’re also ironic since he suffered a concussion while dishing out punishment to Packers running back James Starks.
“I feel like every hit that I took [against the Bears] was a legit hit,” Meriweather maintained. “I wasn’t trying to be dirty. I wasn’t trying to hurt nobody. I didn’t launch with my head. I used my shoulder like they told me to do. Everything I did was a pointer from [NFL officials]. You’ve just got to play. There ain’t nothing I can do about it. I just go out there and play.”
That is if he’s allowed to go play.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.